Pastéis de Belém–The World’s First Pastéis de Nata

Confeitaria de Belem

On the fringes of Lisbon, in the picturesque section of Belém, are two shrines that every year draw hundreds of thousands of pilgrims. The more imposing is the Mosteiro dos Jerónimos, the Manueline-style monastery that contains the tombs of venerated kings and queens, Vasco da Gama, and the national poet, Luís de Camões.

Nearby is a pastry shop called the Antiga Confeitaria de Belém, home to what is arguably the Holy Grail of Portuguese sweets: pastéis de Belém. The recipe for which has been a secret for centuries. Having been raised in a Portuguese-Catholic family, I looked at the monastery, then at the confeitaria, and joined my fellow sinners in the happier-looking line in front of the shop.

This adoration of the pastéis is easy to understand after you’ve taken a bite. The confection’s shell is made from massa folhada, Portugal’s equivalent to France’s puff pastry. It spirals up, creating a nest of hundreds of crisp layers. Inside is a luscious, warm custard. Rarely do a dozen make it home intact.

The proximity of the monastery to the bakery is no accident. Until the 19th century, monasteries were Portugal’s research, trade, horticultural, and confectionary epicenters, around which rose small businesses. Originally, lay bakers made the pastéis behind the Jerónimos walls and sold them to the public.

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Potato Bacon Pizza

A sliced oval-shaped potato bacon pizza.

I am not ashamed to admit it publicly: I’m a Solanum tuberosum freak. Yep. Lock me up and throw away the key to the pantry. In other words, I’m a potato fanatic. I wave my freak flag high and proud. I worship all sizes and shapes of this seductive tuber. In fact, so deep goes my freakiness for the starchy little fellows that I have, on many occasions, eaten for dinner nothing but a big-ass bowl of mashed potatoes. (And, yes, I’m well aware of all the big-ass references you’re probably thinking of that can be inserted here, but I’d happily risk your sniggers than be less than my true, unadulterated self.) Read more “Potato Bacon Pizza” »

Are You Causing Your Cat Whisker Stress at Dinner?

Whisker Stress : David Leite

If I had to live my life again and pick a new career, I think I’d become a veterinarian. My love for animals is matched only by my passion for writing and cooking. (And on those days when my baking mojo has rudely taken its leave or the only thing I’ve written in days is my mortgage check, I think my love for animals far exceeds the others.)

Of course, every ounce of that love has been poured into all the creatures I’ve had the joy to parent–my three turtles; two parakeets; 11 rabbits; two tanks full of fish; my dogs, Duke and Rusty; our cats Ariadne, Madame Maxine, Raja, Chloe (below left and right), and, now, the most magnificent of all, Devil Cat (above). Read more “Are You Causing Your Cat Whisker Stress at Dinner?” »